Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Identity vs. Illness

ImageSomeone recently posted this on my facebook page, and I thought it was a powerful image.  One of the ways you can interpret this picture is by thinking that the woman in the wheelchair is looking into a mirror or looking inside herself and the dancer is how she really thinks of herself.  Not as someone trapped in a wheelchair, but someone who is free to dance and move as she wishes. 

How do you see yourself?  And how do you identify yourself?

The other day, I was talking to someone and was explaining what days I wasn’t free because I had to go to the hospital for treatments.  And in explaining what I meant by treatment, I started off saying, “I’m bipolar”.  I caught myself and switched to “I have bipolar disorder.”  

At first reading, these two sentences may seem the same, but I think there’s is an important difference in the two.  I’m bipolar infers that I am my illness rather than bipolar disorder is something I struggle against and wish to overcome.  It’s not something I want.  It’s not something I enjoy.  It’s not something I want in my life.  Although I do talk about it with my close friends, it’s not something that overtakes the conversation and there are many things in my life that I love to talk about.

Yet in the eating disorder world, it is acceptable–and even expected–to introduce yourself as Hi, I’m ______ and I’m anorexic.  If you’ve ever been in treatment in a group setting, you’re familiar with this introductory style.  People point other out based on their specific illness: Oh, that’s ________; she’s bulimic.  You are known by your illness, not by who you really are.  When you introduce yourself this way, you are insuring that the other person knows you primarily by your illness.  You make it difficult for them to know you as a student, a piano player, an athlete, a knitter, a painter, a lover of cats, a friend, a reader, a lover of music, etc.  And isn’t this how you would like to be known, rather than your illness?

One of the things that recovery entails is this: learning to identify yourself by things other than your illness, to see your illness as something you are fighting against rather than something you are.  And one of the ways you can help yourself with this, is by not introducing yourself as an illness.  I don’t introduce myself as Hi, my name is Alexis and I am cardiomyopathy even though since my (correct) cardiac diagnosis three years ago, my life has changed in more ways than the eating disorder ever did.  As far as I know, my aunt never introduced herself as Hi, my name is Anne (pseudonym) and I’m cancer even though, especially near the end, it took up most of her life.  

In other words, one more time, you are not your illness.  You are, and always have been, so much more.  Even if you’ve struggled with an eating disorder for years, there is still that essential you inside, waiting for the chance to come out and shine, or as the image above you expresses: Allow your real self the opportunity to dance.


June 21, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I am thinking of the words and (maybe I am wrong, my grammar is not very good) and the word ‘anorexic’ is different then ‘anorexia’ It is easier to say ‘I am anorexic’

    I don’t think saying ‘I am bipolar’ works. Another one would be ‘I am depression’ instead of ‘I am depressed’ and very different then ‘I have depression’

    I wonder if the use of the words are different because someone or some group has made an effort to create or own words. Similar to the effort to take control of the word ‘slut’

    Well written by the way and I agree, don’t become the illness.

    Comment by aLonelyRunner | June 21, 2012 | Reply

  2. You raise an interesting idea, and I think I may have heard it oh, 42 times or so, but yes, it takes that many times for something to get through my thick skull.

    It’s kind of hard, you’re right, to do the opposite, especially when you’ve been suffering for so freaking long. It’s so easy to say you are your illness because it takes up so much space in your head. Guess it’s time to start fighting that and uncover the person buried inside. Thank you for the motivating post!

    Comment by apurpledreamer | August 1, 2012 | Reply

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